Huge queues in Newcastle with shops and beer gardens reopening as lockdown...

Huge queues in Newcastle with shops and beer gardens reopening as lockdown eases

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It was a momentous occasion with shoppers flocking to the high street and drinkers downing pints as the country edged closer to returning to normality.

There was a real buzz in Newcastle city centre with thousands taking advantage of their first chance to visit non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants, gyms and hairdressers for months on Monday.

The Government ordered them to close their doors on January 5 to stop the spread of the coronavirus as the country was plunged into a third lockdown.

But now “Stage two” of lifting lockdown restrictions has been allowed to go ahead with Boris Johnson saying the next step was “fully justified” due to the success of the vaccine rollout, and the drop in coronavirus cases and hospitalisations.

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the nation to “behave responsibly” as they enjoyed their renewed freedoms on Monday.

Sub-zero temperatures did not deter shoppers from standing outside popular stores for hours prior to them welcoming back customers.

The release of the new limited edition Nike Dunk trainers had people queuing since 4pm on Sunday to get their hands on a pair.

Cameron Vuong, a construction worker from Blyth, had been at the front of the queue at Size? on Grainger Street from midnight.

Huge queues were seen outside JD on Northumberland Street
Huge queues were seen outside JD on Northumberland Street

The 18-year-old said: “It’s been so cold but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.

“I’ve got three pairs of pants on and had a McDonald’s to keep me going. It’s so much better to be going to the shops in person than online.”

More than 100 people were at Primark on Northumberland Street for it opening at 8am – with Charlie Maughan, 18, and Robbie Shaw, 17, among those first to step foot inside after arriving three hours earlier.

Charlie, from South Shields, said: “We got the first Metro to be here for 6.15am.

“I shop at Primark regularly so I’ve been excited for it reopening again. I’ve been desperate for some socks as they always go missing so that’s why we came along so early.

“It’s the first step to getting back to normality.”

After a relatively quiet start to the day, Northumberland Street had a familiar look to it before the third national lockdown was imposed.

Police patrolling Northumberland Street on the first day shops reopened as lockdown was eased
Police patrolling Northumberland Street on the first day shops reopened as lockdown was eased

A one-way system is in place with wardens and police officers on hand to ensure people are sticking to social-distancing rules.

Queues were seen outside several outlets in the city centres, with many customers donning face coverings.

Under Government guidance, fitting rooms are allowed to reopen but will require regular cleaning when they return to public use.

John Lewis, H&M and River Island are among those to make fitting rooms available, although some firms such as Primark have opted not to do so.

Eldon Square opened its doors to droves of customers who flocked to popular retailers such as Fenwick, Next, Apple and Morphe.

Shoppers return to Northumberland Street in Newcastle
Shoppers return to Northumberland Street in Newcastle

The shopping centre has been hit by the coronavirus crisis with almost half of the units at threat of being empty by the end of lockdown.

Andy Bradley, general manager at Eldon Square, said it was “absolutely amazing” to be opening its doors for a “brand new beginning for retail”.

He said: “There’s a real buzz in the air.

“Shopping is one of the top 10 favourite leisure activities in the UK and we think we will be able to entice customers back into the centre.

“All our toilets have reopened today so they have a designated sanitiser cleaners. We’re making the centre as safe as possible for our shoppers.

“After the buzz of Christmas to go into lockdown, it’s been tough for people. Today marks a brand new beginning for retail. It’s a dawn of a retail era.”

While it was big high street names drawing the crowds, today marks the start of a critical period for small businesses hoping loyal customers return and people will put faith in independent retailers.

Maria, 70, manager of French fashion store Gino’s on Neville Street told ChronicleLive she was “nervous but excited” about welcoming back customers again after three months.

She said: “I am cautiously optimistic about reopening again. It’s been so hard during the pandemic for businesses such as ours because it’s open so stop and start.

Marie at Gino's in Newcastle city centre said she was cautiously optimistic about reopening
Marie at Gino’s in Newcastle city centre said she was cautiously optimistic about reopening

“We had no idea originally how long this lockdown was going to last and we had no idea if we were going to be able to survive.

“We’re hopeful customers will return. There’s nothing like seeing something in person or feeling a fabric when buying clothes.”

There was huge excitement about the region’s boozers reopening to serve takeaways and to welcome guests outdoors.

Some of the first pints pulled in Newcastle were at The Mile Castle where best pals Derek Breen, 73, Freddie Burn, 68, Kenneth Laws, 68, and Gerry Pacey, 76, met up for a long-awaiting catch-up.

Derek said: “It’s great to be back again. We’ve 100% missed being at the pub. It’s something you take for granted until it’s taken away.

Gerry Pacey, Derek Breen, Freddie Burn and Kenneth Laws enjoying a drink at The Mile Castle
Gerry Pacey, Derek Breen, Freddie Burn and Kenneth Laws enjoying a drink at The Mile Castle

“It’s been a tough time as I’ve had Covid. I’ve been stuck in the house for around nine months but now it’s fantastic to be able to meet up with my friends and have a few pints.”

While it might not exactly be business as usual, bars owners are confident they can help people enjoy a pint the sunshine safely this spring.

Fenced off beer gardens, table booking systems and regular hand washing are all being used to help keep pubs Covid-secure and ensure they stay open long-term.

The Mile Castle has had its car park converted into a huge outdoor area featuring a marquee and benches with a capacity of more than 250 to entice drinkers back.

Down at The Quayside, dozens were lining up for a seat in the beer garden while taking in the sunshine.

John Hudson, area manager of Wetherspoon, said: “It’s great to see regular faces again and providing a service to the public.

Drinkers at The Quayside in Newcastle
Drinkers at The Quayside in Newcastle

“It’s hard to estimate how difficult it is to close a pub down for months and then to reopen again. It’s a monumental task for us.

“It’s been a very challenging year for the pub industry. We’re just hoping that relaxing lockdown is irreversible.

“We’d like to see the inside of the pub open as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile Dave Stone, co-owner of By The River Brew Co, said April 12 marks a “new dawn” as the country moves a step closer to returning to normal.

He said: “We’ve waited a long time for this. It’s exciting. It feels like a new dawn really.

“This lockdown feels like it has lasted for such a long time.

“It’s been challenging for everyone in most sectors during the pandemic. We’re blessed with the sunshine and people are out enjoying themselves.

“It’s the first step and we’re hoping people are respectful of enough of each other for the next stage of lockdown.

“We’re blessed with a big outdoor area but some of our friends are still suffering and our thoughts are with them.”



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